Cancer treatment is either local therapy or systemic therapy:
- Local therapy: Surgery and radiation therapy are local therapies. They remove or destroy cancer in the chest. When lung cancer has spread to other parts of the body, local therapy may be used to control the disease in those specific areas. For example, lung cancer that spreads to the brain may be controlled with radiation therapy to the head.
- Systemic therapy: Chemotherapy and targeted therapy are systemic therapies. The drugs enter the bloodstream and destroy or control cancer throughout the body.
Your doctor can describe your treatment choices and the expected results. You may want to know about side effects and how treatment may change your normal activities. Because cancer treatments often damage healthy cells and tissues, side effects are common. Side effects depend mainly on the type and extent of the treatment. Side effects may not be the same for each person, and they may change from one treatment session to the next. Before treatment starts, your health care team will explain possible side effects and suggest ways to help you manage them.
You and your doctor can work together to develop a treatment plan that meets your medical and personal needs. Surgery
Surgery for lung cancer removes the tissue that contains the tumor. The surgeon also removes nearby lymph nodes. The surgeon may remove part or all of the lung:
- A small part of the lung (wedge resection or segmentectomy): The surgeon removes the tumor and a small part of the lung.
- A lobe of the lung (lobectomy): The surgeon removes a lobe of the lung. This is the most common surgery for lung cancer.
- All of the lung (pneumonectomy): The surgeon removes the entire lung.
After lung surgery, a chest tube will be inserted to drain air and fluid and help reexpand your lung. Also, a nurse or respiratory therapist will teach you coughing and breathing exercises. You will need to do these breathing exercises several times a day to prevent complications. The time it takes to heal after surgery is different for everyone. Your hospital stay on average will be around 5 to 7 days. It may be several weeks before you return to normal activities. You will need to consult your surgeon before returning to work or driving. Medicine can help control your pain after surgery. Before surgery, you should discuss the plan for pain relief with your doctor or nurse. After surgery, your doctor can adjust the plan if you need more pain relief.
Surgery may be the first step in treating your lung cancer, or may be considered after chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
For those people who can not have surgery because they are in poor general health, have other medical problems, or because the cancer is widespread, other types of therapy (radiation therapy, chemotherapy) can be given alone or in combination depending on the stage of cancer and medical status of patient at time of diagnosis.
You may want to ask your doctor these questions before having surgery:
- What kind of surgery do you suggest for me?
- How will I feel after surgery?
- If I have pain, how will it be controlled?
- How long will I be in the hospital?
- Will I have any lasting side effects?
- When can I get back to my normal activities?
- How long before I can drive?
- Will I need any additional treatment such as radiation or chemotherapy after surgery?
Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. It affects cells only in the treated area.
You may receive external radiation. This is the most common type of radiation therapy for lung cancer. The radiation comes from a large machine outside your body. Most people go to a hospital or clinic for treatment. Treatments are usually 5 days a week for several weeks.
The side effects depend mainly on the type of radiation therapy, the dose of radiation, and the part of your body that is treated. External radiation therapy to the chest may harm the esophagus, causing problems with swallowing. You may also feel very tired. In addition, your skin in the treated area may become red, dry, and tender. After internal radiation therapy, a person may cough up small amounts of blood.
You may want to ask your doctor these questions before having radiation therapy:
- Why do I need this treatment?
- What kind of radiation therapy do you suggest for me?
- When will the treatments begin? When will they end?
- How will I feel during treatment?
- How will we know if the radiation treatment is working?
- Are there any lasting side effects?
Chemotherapy uses anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs enter the bloodstream and can affect cancer cells all over the body.
Usually, more than one drug is given. Anticancer drugs for lung cancer are usually given through a vein (intravenous). Some anticancer drugs can be taken by mouth.
Chemotherapy is given in cycles. You have a rest period after each treatment period. The length of the rest period and the number of cycles depend on the anticancer drugs used. You may have your treatment in a clinic, at the doctor's office, or at home. Some people may need to stay in the hospital for treatment.
The side effects depend mainly on which drugs are given and how much. The drugs can harm normal cells that divide rapidly:
- Blood cells: When chemotherapy lowers your levels of healthy blood cells, you're more likely to get infections, bruise or bleed easily, and feel very weak and tired. Your health care team gives you blood tests to check for low levels of blood cells. If the levels are low, there are medicines that can help your body make new blood cells.
- Cells in hair roots: Chemotherapy may cause hair loss. Your hair will grow back after treatment ends, but it may be somewhat different in color and texture.
- Cells that line the digestive tract: Chemotherapy can cause poor appetite, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, or mouth and lip sores. Ask your health care team about treatments that help with these problems.
Your oncologists will go over which chemotherapy drug is best for you and the side effects for the drug.